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Halloween Revives Neighborhood's Nightmare

The fun of the holiday died last October with the killing of a teenage prankster in a Buena Park community.

October 28, 2000|LOUISE ROUG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The festive Halloween decorations that for years adorned a quiet Buena Park neighborhood are shining less brightly this year as the holiday approaches--and everyone knows why.

A year ago, Coral Bell Way gained national notoriety when a 47-year-old man fatally shot a teenage neighbor who, as a prank, stole the plastic pumpkin from the man's front porch.

The shooting continues to cast a shadow on the community of neat ranch-style homes. Many neighbors who once anticipated the pumpkin carving and trick-or-treaters of the season now wish the holiday would just go away.

Friends of the 17-year-old victim have held several candlelight vigils in front of the home of Pete Tavita Solomona, who will stand trial for murder in December.

"[Halloween] is nothing like it was. People don't do what they used to," said Patti Brown, 44, who has lived in the area for 10 years. "The haunted house was canceled. That had been going on for three years, and every year it got better . . . We used to have really big parties on the street. We don't do as much [together] anymore. It's sad. So many lives have been changed."

For neighbors, the anniversary of the shooting raises a troubling question: Whether to decorate their homes as usual or skip this year.

Ruben and Yolanda Navarro said they considered forgoing the family's Halloween decoration out of respect for their neighbor, Solomona, and the boy who was killed. They finally decided to go ahead.

"We are trying to put it past us," Yolanda Navarro said. "We don't want to be known as the neighborhood with the shooting."

But the Solomona house, which was famous for its decorations, is dark this year. After the shooting, neighbors saw the family throw away their lights and trinkets.

*

It was only a few seconds that separated a Halloween prank from a tragedy. After driving around the neighborhood that October night, 17-year-old Brandon Ketsdever and two friends ended up in front of Solomona's corner house.

According to witnesses, Solomona walked up to the parked car, angrily asking about the earlier theft of his pumpkin. Standing outside the car, he raised his .357 magnum handgun, holding it inches from Brandon's head. A few seconds later, the gun went off, and Brandon slumped over in the driver's seat.

Solomona maintains the shooting was an accident, but prosecutors have charged him with second-degree murder, saying Solomona showed a disregard for the safety of others.

Both families have struggled in the aftermath of the shooting.

The Ketsdevers moved to Cypress to be closer to the cemetery where their boy is buried. The headstone on his grave features a picture of a boy on a skateboard, a homage to the teenager's favorite activity.

This year, Brandon would have graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma with his friends. Instead, his mother received his honorary diploma on graduation day, school officials said.

One of Brandon's friends, David De La Vega, 18, was among the hundred students who remembered the popular quarterback that day.

"Everybody who graduated that day stood up for Brandon. It was really serious. Silent, silent, silent," De La Vega said. "Girls all around me started crying. Some of the guys got teary-eyed too." The 18-year-old psychology student said that visiting friends in the neighborhood of the shooting brings back memories. "I've cried a few times. I mean, I went to junior high with him."

The memories are even more painful for Frank Nelson, who was in the car with Brandon the night he was killed.

"When I saw Halloween decorations, I thought about Brandon," he said in a barely audible voice. "I still have nightmares."

He has yet to visit Brandon's grave. "Somehow, I just couldn't go," he said.

*

Solomona, who worked at a Pepsi plant for 24 years, lost his job in the aftermath of the shooting, and has been unable to find another, he said. Out on bail, he continues to live with his family on the street where Brandon was shot.

Many neighbors are supportive of Solomona, with some offering to be character witnesses when the trial begins.

Darren Scheidt, 30, lives across from Solomona and yearns for the day the shooting will be a distant memory.

"I don't think they want to remember it any more than they have to," Scheidt said of local residents. "I talked to one neighbor about it last week . . . People are downplaying the whole holiday because they just want it to die down . . . That's what we're trying to do, to forget."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Shooting Revisited

Last October a Buena Park man shot a 17-year-old boy to death after the boy took a pumpkin from his porch, prosecutors say.

Source: Buena Park Police Department

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